We have made it to the end. The Brewers’ #1-5 prospects all boast extremely high ceilings, and should become household names in Milwaukee very soon. With the Brewers looking to upgrade their MLB roster over the offseason, it would not be a surprise to see one or two of these names dealt as the headliner of a big trade, as they all come with very high value. In any case, these five prospects have Milwaukee’s future looking very bright.
- Luis Ortiz, P
Ortiz, a former first round pick of the Texas Rangers, was acquired along with Lewis Brinson and Ryan Cordell in the Brewers’ blockbuster deal at the 2016 trade deadline. Ortiz came over as a highly-regarded prospect, ranked in the top-60 in all of baseball at the time. While he has dealt with some nagging injuries since becoming a member of the Brewers’ organization (and over his entire career in general), he has impressed nonetheless. With three separate minor league teams in 2016, Ortiz pitched his way to a 3.08 ERA in 90 innings of work, including a 1.93 ERA with Double-A Biloxi. Back in Biloxi for 2017, Ortiz had a 4.01 ERA in 94 innings of work, holding opponents to a .225 batting average and achieving a 1.23 WHIP.
The largest concern with Ortiz at this point is his durability. He has the necessary “stuff” to be a middle of the rotation guy as he possesses two plus pitches with his fastball and slider in addition to an average change-up, with some saying he could even slot in as a #2 starter. However, the fact that 94 innings are the most he has thrown in a single season is alarming. A second concern is that Ortiz has struggled to strike hitters out, a weakness that will only become larger at the next level. Part of the issue may just be that Ortiz needs more experience, and thus more innings. At age-22, he still has plenty of time to figure things out. The ceiling is high for Ortiz, he just needs to work on staying healthy so he can reach it.
- Brandon Woodruff, P
Woodruff was the Brewers’ breakout prospect of 2016, as he went from being virtually unknown to regarded as a top-100 talent. He was among the leaders in the minor leagues in strikeouts with 173 over 158 innings, and worked his way to an impressive 2.68 ERA and 1.02 WHIP. Perhaps even more impressive was his excellent command, as he only walked 2.28 batters per nine innings. Woodruff was promoted to Triple-A Colorado Springs to start the 2017 season, and performed well considering the extremely challenging pitching environment. Over 16 starts he pitched to a 6-5 record and a 4.30 ERA. He spent most of the second half of the season in the Brewers’ rotation, where he performed well before falling off a bit at the end of the season. Altogether, Woodruff likely showed enough to guarantee himself a spot in the Brewers’ rotation going forward into 2018.
Woodruff relies primarily on his fastball that sits around 96 mph, complementing it with two above average secondary offerings in his change-up and slider. He has displayed extreme durability, pitching well over 100 innings in each season as a professional. As he transitions to the big-league level, it will be exciting to see to what extent Woodruff’s minor league success translates.
- Corbin Burnes, P
Corbin Burnes thus far has cemented himself as the steal of the 2016 MLB Draft. Selected in the fourth round out of St. Mary’s College, Burnes started his professional career by throwing 35 and 2/3 innings between the Arizona League Brewers and Class A Wisconsin, achieving a 2.02 ERA and holding opponents to a .185 average. He followed up on this by dominating with Class A-Advanced Carolina to begin 2017, pitching to a 5-0 record with a 1.05 ERA. This led to a promotion to Double A Biloxi, where he continued his successful ways en route to a 2.10 ERA.
Burnes command is what really helps his average to above average pure “stuff” play up to an elite level. He has consistently kept his BB/9 in the 2.0-2.5 range, and does an excellent job at limiting home runs. His best pitches are his fastball that reaches 97 mph and a sharp slider. His change-up shows plus potential, and his curveball offers a serviceable fourth pitch to complete his mix. Burnes has been a quick mover, and I would say it is likely we see him in Milwaukee at some point during 2018.
- Keston Hiura, 2B
Hiura inherited the status of “best hitter” in the Brewers’ organization the moment he was selected with the ninth overall pick in the 2017 draft. Hiura boasts an extremely developed offensive game that was on full display in his professional debut. Between the Arizona League Brewers and Class A Wisconsin, he hit .371/.422/.611. He is perhaps the only prospect in the Brewers’ system that could challenge for a batting title one day. His strikeout rate is extremely manageable by today’s standards at around 20%, and I expect that to drop as he becomes more acclimated to professional pitching. While many of the Brewers’ top prospects struggle with high strikeout totals, Hiura provides an advanced approach that is unparalleled. I would compare his offensive ceiling to that of Dustin Pedroia in his prime with perhaps a little more power.
The one area that caused Hiura to drop to the ninth pick is his questionable defensive home. Due to lingering elbow problems, he didn’t play one inning in the field during his 2017 collegiate season. He is thought to be a fit at second base, and that is where the Brewers have deployed him thus far. Some have said that he could play left field, but I do not see a reason to currently put him there due to the surplis of high-tier outfield prospects the Brewers have. Either way, Hiura’s offensive game is enough to make him an elite prospect, and he should be a treat to watch for years to come.
- Lewis Brinson, OF
The hype surrounding Lewis Brinson is unreal. Brinson was the headlining return for Jonathan Lucroy and Jeremy Jeffress from the Texas Rangers at the 2016 trade deadline and has been as impressive as advertised ever since. He was immediately promoted to Triple-A Colorado Springs upon his acquisition, and he endeared himself to the Brewers’ faithful by hitting .382/.387/.618 in 23 games. 2017 was more of the same, as he hit .331/.400/.562 with 13 home runs in 76 games at the Triple-A level. Brinson spent some time with the Brewers during the summer without much overall success, as he hit .106/.236/.277 in 55 at bats. However, he consistently flashed the tools that make him such an elite talent, most notably his power and speed.
Brinson has the potential to be above-average in all five tools, and currently rates best for his defensive prowess in centerfield, his speed, and his power. Brinson’s arm will play at any outfield position, but fits best in centerfield or left field given the other assets present on the Brewers’ roster. He could potentially be an MVP candidate at his peak, and be someone that anchors a lineup by hitting .300 while achieving a 30 HR/30 SB season. It will likely take some time for him to adjust to the MLB level, but Brinson has all of the tools for superstardom.